Monday, September 27, 2010
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Friday, September 17, 2010
So there, I have set the context...We started our two city Europe adventure with little expectations...When you race to Gatwick at 4.30 in the morning to catch a flight, food isn’t foremost on the mind.
Food Funda(FF) 1: If you choose wisely, then each meal can make you feel like you died and went to heaven..Even before we caught the train to Amsterdam Centraal from Schipol Airport, we had our first taste of heaven – Stropwaffels..So what are they? Tiny, crispy discs of waffles with loads of sugar and butter in it – with or without chocolate and other fillings. Felt like a taste of heaven( a view that I kept amending every half a day as we had a new meal, till by the end, I wasn’t even inspired to get a packet of stropwaffels back home to UK with me!)
F F2: It is better if you aren’t a vegetarian in Europe, for it limits your food-orgasms drastically. But if you travel with friends who eat anything that does not talk back or bite them, then you will be able to at least report on how good the food is! In Amsterdam, the check-in times are usually around 2PM, which meant that we had to while quite some time away in other places.
FF3: I wouldn’t suggest you walk into a ‘coffeeshop’ the first thing in the morning. If you do, you might not walk out for the rest of the day. Plan your trips to the coffeeshop, would be my wise advice. So after chucking a couple of ‘wholesome breakfast’ options at coffeeshops, we finally walked into a cafe that served us some wholesome food indeed...I twisted my tongue over ordering a chicken schnitzel sandwich( try it, try it casually and see if it does not go schnizhhhul, snitszhul and stuff..or maybe I was in sleep-deprived semi-coma!) but the world righted itself, after the first cup of a great cappuccino and the sandwich.
FF 4: Amsterdam is great for food. Especially when you arrive here from the UK, the food feels delicious and under-priced. Never thought I’d say that about any place in Europe. But then, Paris began punching massive holes into my Euro wallet. The only consolation was, I was paying good money for some great food!
FF 5: We followed our brunch with a hearty snooze and then began planning our food stops even as we tried to find our way across Amsterdam. We ended up at a Bagel chain ( I forgot the name – it was a clever one) that we girls thought was a Quaint Cafe discovered by us. We hadn’t gone two streets down after having some yummy bagels with exotic cream cheese and one sweet one ( apple and cinnamon bagel with butter and chocolate sprinkles) when we noticed just another similarly ‘quaint cafe’. The realisation hurt, but what the heck, the stomachs were singing with pleasure. The hot chocolate with cream (seen here along with a fruit explosion) also helped ease the hurt!
FF 6: Travelling to Spain didn’t materialise, but we had some gorgeous Spanish Tapas. Tapas is typical Spanish fare which is served in small portion. So you might need about 6 dishes to feel kind of close to satiating your hunger. If you ever get to do it right, don’t miss the chance. And boy, did we do our meal right or not...A jug of Sangria –that is red wine with orange and apple rinds and a dash of orange juice to make it cocktailly – set the mood. Some of this yummy bread dunked in olive oil, with the tapas – ahhh...another slice of heaven. And between the three of us, the meal was about 42 euros only!!! In the UK, you’d easily shell out that amount for a meal for two without the wine and I’d not take wagers on the food.
FF 7: If you are ever in Amsterdam, don’t say no to their breads or stuffed pastries. The Dutch bake like a dream and when you pay under 1 Euro for most of these concoctions, you feel like you are getting great value for money. However, a Europe trip straight out of India’s cheap food prices might bring on a mini heart attack at the cost of everything in this part of the world!
FF 8: On one of our padayatras through the myriad –straats along the canal, we had seen a tiny shop called the Pancake Factory. A little searching online revealed that it was the most popular destination for all kinds of pancakes, crepes and what not. So we kept aside a considerable amount of time on the last day in Amsterdam for sampling their fare. Travelling with good friends make your food journeys cheaper. Between the three of us, we ordered up all the house specialities – pommefritjes (remember I told you about that in the last post?) with chocolate and cream and honey and mandarins and a savoury pancake with chicken and cheese. We had to wait for our seats and for our orders to be taken. But it was worth the wait, I say!
FF 9 : The stereotype about Parisienne food was created because there were enough people who endorsed it. We joined that rapidly increasing group. The Indian girl who travelled with me – a hardcore carnivore said she’d died and gone to heaven after her first encounter with a French steak. So much so that she willingly offered herself for a high cholesterol death by ordering different versions of the steak at the various meals in Paris. Must I say much about the wine and cheese? Though I must admit here, that we had by then started going cheap with our selections as the wallet began getting lighter faster than we anticipated.
FF 10: Don’t eat by the eateries near the Eiffel Tower if you are the kind to feel the Euros pinch. Save your hunger for the smaller, lesser known bistros along Montmartre regions. The food is equally luscious – my personal favourites – a salad with grilled goat’s cheese on tiny squares of toasts and a divine dressing and a chicken leg with French fries dunked in a glorious mushroom sauce cooked with wine. It set us off by about 20 Euros every meal – the food and wine together, but you wouldn’t regret it!
FF 11: In France, also remember to try the chocolate éclairs and the simple croissants for breakfast with a dash of butter and some jams. The French, I think say some secret chant, as they cook their food. It just refuses to turn out bad!! Ohhh..and did I mention the simple crepes at roadside eateries? They seem like our dosa stalls – they are available just about everywhere...While you are at it, order the one with the Nutella and banana..and tell me if you saw heaven too?!! J
I’m now back to English realities and sandwiches with no salt or pepper. The last baguette that I had packed from Paris before boarding my bus – I remembered how I tried to make it last longer by taking smaller nibbles. The bread alone would have been worth the 5 Euros I paid!!
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Now I have already told you that this is a travellogue....Like any true heroine of their own drama, I too want a shot at 'something different' like Maggi tomato ketchup....The more I thought of a syntax..the more it appeared like a souffle gone wrong after the promise of a Michellin effort...
So then, I decided to just let be...and here's what has been decided...Till the day that I run out of anything more to say ( and that's saying something) or I'm really bored trying to eke out that last little nugget out of this fun holiday - I shall try to post a bit of something or the other about different things...
Today is Travel Fundas...
The Schengen guys at the VFS didn't like the way my teeth were set or the totally black ensemble that I had on when I went for my scheduled appointment to apply for a visa...I can't think of another reason why they privately laughed at my application for multiple entry with atleast a week's duration for each visit and sent me home a visa stamped for one entry for the duration of 4 days...Yes you heard me right, 4 MEASLY DAYS..
The truth is I have never been treated so shabbily before by any country where I applied for a visa. So since I hadn't anticipated that the EU really didn't care whether I shelled out more Euros to keep their economy afloat, I had gone the whole hog and booked my tickets and accommodation. The initial plan was a girlie trip Amsterdam-Paris and Madrid for 6.5 days. Easyjet made offers that lured, so we succumbed. Little were we to know that only the American in our gang of three ( henceforth she is Ms.GPS - had it not been for her GPS on the iPhone, we would have had some episodes of LOST to tape) made it to all three places on the itinerary. The other Indian was sent back to UK after the 3rd day, while I got 4 days!!!
In hindsight however, the holiday was a great success...How many of you can claim to have gone on a holiday where you travelled in a plane, a train, routine interactions with a cycle and a boat and then followed it up with a bus and a ship?? Well, I had all that and more in just 4 days...
We got to Amsterdam by Easyjet..and not KLM. Book in advance and you can get tickets for 20 pounds also..Ours was one of those cheap tickets that would not have been sufficient for the air hostess of our flight get home after it in a cab! Do we care as long as we had a deal? Hell, no!!
From the Schipol Airport to the Amsterdam Centraal Train Station is about a 20 minute train ride. That is if you can figure out whether you are on the right platform!! We nearly began our journey to Eindhoven before we had the sense to get the headphones of a young guy to confirm whether we were going to Amsterdam. He looked at us with a weird expression and went Duhhhhh, No!!
So Travel Funda 1(TF 1): Asking for confirmations isn't bad in Dutch land, but asking for directions might land you in the hands of some over zealous samaritan who might just set you off on a merry trip to nowhere.( I say out of experience of finding my way from Harlemmerstraat to the Anne Frank museum - which happened to be just about 2 and a half streets away, but we took 3 hours to figure that) Btw, the Dutch wait for a hapless tourist to stand by a traffic light with a spread map to come forward and try to help them. A definite change from those London lads, I tell you!
Once in Amsterdam city, forget any form of transportation. That's my TF 2 - Walking is not just a way to discover this city, but great to burn off all those yummy Dutch treats like pommefritjes (tiny pancakes smothered in chocolate or cream or any other sin you can think of!!) or stropwaffels!!! If you'd rather rent a cycle, there are many. Walking only becomes a pain when you suddenly see a kamikaze biker heading straight for you as you try to cross the road...
However, my eye was set on this beauty!! There wasn't the owner around or I'd have charmed them into giving me a spin on this for sure!
TF 3 : Don't miss out on the canal cruises along the different canal routes of Amsterdam. And its just between 8-10 euros. The city seems like an architectural wonder precariously balanced along the waterside, there are also these houses to ogle at...And no, before you think its because they are too poor to afford homes on firm ground, here's the reality check - these houseboats can cost you anywhere from 300,000 Euros upwards..And I got my zeros right in that figure!
TF 4: There are also trams for those lazy to walk, but I'd just say Shame on you..You miss so much!!!Ditto for Paris. Except for taking the Metro to traverse the larger distances, the thought of not walking up and down wherever reduces the charm of a holiday. Also refer to TF2 about burning the lard!
TF 5: Travelling from Amsterdam to Paris by train - Highly recommended - this way you cross through many places like Antwerp, Rotterdam and Brussels. All you see of these cities might be what you see from the train window, but then there's some fun in saying, 'Oh, I'd travelled to Paris from Amsterdam via blah blah blah cities.' Pompousness sometimes is deliciously enjoyable! If you book early by Eurostar, you can get some really cheap deals in the vicinity of 30 pounds.
TF 6: Never bother to cancel an Easyjet ticket when you find that you can't make it. For one, you will waste most of the balance on your phone trying to get through an elusive executive. And if you do, then there could be the chance that they charge you 25 pounds to cancel a ticket that cost you 20 pounds. Avoid insult on financial injury. Just zip it and bear the loss!
TF 7: Disappointment and Desperation are great travel companions if Luck is added into the mix..So when the Spain leg fell flat, I began cheaper 'Return Home' searches. One such one led me to a bus option. If you don't mind an 8 hour bus journey, then travelling by bus from Paris to London - highly recommended. For Indians, used to khataras and buses with asbestos sheets for seats, these are high luxury Volvo buses. Moreover, you get to travel by the ferry across from Calais to Dover. I don't know about you, but after reading about the Dover to Calais ferry ride in a short story back in school, this idea of travelling from one country to another by ferry was appealing. The Ferry is good fun, serves Food (English not French, so don't be too hopeful) and gets you from Calais to Dover in an hour and a bit.
TF 8: However, ensure you have enough time to find the bus stop, because like in my case, the address was bang in the middle of Rue de Maubeuge that curved and dipped like it felt like. And even people at the Paris Gare Du Nord Railway station don't usually know that the Rue de Maubeuge is in reality the little side street that runs by the left side of the station premises!! Can you beat that? When I couldn't locate door No. 83, I remembered asking two policemen in a car in the street nearby. For one, they were stumped by my non-French question and more importantly, they had no clue where the address was..imagine seeking their help if a murder were to happen at 83??
If travelling cheap and safe is what you are looking to do, remember to come back here for my cheap tricks to make your Euros stretch...There are many more fundas coming up - from accommodation to food to living it up!
Merci Beaucoup!! :)